Taken from Viva!LIFE (Viva!’s supporters’ magazine), issue 29, summer 2005. To receive Viva!LIFE join here.
Tony Wardle reckons that by any standards, cookery writer Mrs Elliot is…
A Veggie Rose
I see Rose Elliot almost every day. Each time I look along my selection of cookery books, she’s there, smiling at me.
I forget how many of Rose’s books I own but it’s a lot – not surprising since she is Britain’s best-selling cookery book author with almost 60 titles to her name. You can tell my favourites by the grubby bent pages and gravy stains. No surprise, then, that this wonder woman has been labelled the queen of vegetarian cookery. And like so many other stories, Rose’s began as much by chance as choice.
It seems that to be a successful cook these days you have to be foul-mouthed and abusive. If it was obligatory, Rose would never have got to first base. She is a gentle, quietly-spoken woman who smiles far more readily than Gordon Ramsay swears. It somehow seems right and proper that she lives, with husband Robert and youngest daughter Claire, in an old Georgian rectory in Eastleigh. Her background and upbringing are spiritual if not conventionally religious. She has a belief in astrology and reincarnation and says, in confidential tones, that she’s ‘a bit psychic’ – but I’m sure the long-departed rector approves heartily.
How many of us can say that at the age of three, we made the connection between fish to eat and the living creatures themselves? Rose did, felt abhorrence, rejected the whole idea of killing animals for food and hasn’t eaten meat or fish since. That was nearly 57 years ago and it is still love for animals which motivates her:
“I suppose deep down, my reason for writing cookery books is that I want to convert people – I want to show them how easy, delicious and healthy vegetarian food is so they don’t eat animals any more!”
She is one of the few – maybe the only – vegetarians to be officially recognised for her compassion, having been awarded an MBE in 1999 – for transforming the image, taste and popularity of veggie food. And quite right, too!
Rose Elliot’s grandmother was the founder of White Eagle Lodge, a spiritualist centre in Petersfield, Hants, and clearly it’s from here that Rose drew many of her influences. The young Rose was artistic but her parents made it clear than art school was not an option. So, at the age of 15, Rose struck a deal with them – she would give up on art if they would let her leave school, which she deeply disliked, and fill the cook’s vacancy at the Lodge.
Eventually, so many guests asked for recipes of the food that Rose cooked for them that she produced a small book – Simply Delicious. So successful was it that Fontana took it on and produced a paperback edition. Next came the brilliantly-titled Not Just a Load of Old Lentils – the words originally being a response to a sceptical publisher.
It was also at this time that she first met Robert. They married when Rose was 18 and by the age of 20 she had two daughters, Meg and Kate. Later, Claire was born. All are veggie so no wonder Rose Elliot’s Mother and Baby Book rings with total authority.
Rose’s philosophy for family, however, goes beyond diet:
“What I really want is a more loving society – a greater concentration on families and children to take the pressure off parents. I would like to see less violence and rubbish on TV and a more spiritual approach where people don’t close their eyes to the suffering of animals because to tolerate it encourages us to tolerate human suffering, also. We need a health service that prevents disease, not one that tries to remedy it. And it is now vital for there to be a more equitable use of the world’s resources.”
In her own way, this is precisely what Rose Elliot has always been working towards. Part of that work is cookery demonstrations but she has no desire to cook commercially: “I have no interest in running a restaurant, churning out the same food day after day. The joy for me is the creativity of making new dishes, of using the wonderful array of colours of textures in new ways that don’t daunt ordinary people – ways that are easy to follow.”
This is the key to Rose’s cookery – simplicity. You won’t find much in the way of smoked Romanian paprika, Mongolian dew berries or thrice-marinated umagoshi plums. Whether it’s Vegetarian Christmas, The Bean Book, Vegetarian Supercook or my own permanent stand by, Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, you know the recipes will work and they’ll taste absolutely great. They’re like Rose herself – honest, straightforward and extremely cheerful.
Rose’s latest venture is Vegetarian Chic, which will be out next year but still simmering away on the back burner is the idea of a ready-prepared food range. You just know that if it happens it will be successful.
There is one very important project before either of these, of course, and that’s Viva!’s Incredible Veggie Show at Wembley. Rose will be conducting free cookery demonstrations throughout the day, showing us how to cook foods which are fast, fresh and fabulous; meals in minutes using meatless meats; and, for those special occasions, festive flavours. It’s worth going to Wembley just for this!
BUY THE BOOKS!
Several of Rose Elliot’s books can be bought from Viva!. Send for our Books for Life catalogue and take your pick. Ring 0117 944 1000 or write to 8 York Court, Wilder Street, Bristol BS2 8QH. Or view the catalogue on line at www.viva.org.uk/shop